You may associate “convenience foods” with fast food, or packaged processed foods – microwave dinners, chicken nuggets, frozen French fries, etc. But that isn’t the case today. There are many whole-food options that are very convenient – you just need to know how to identify them.
In my book Resetting Normal, I go into detail about processed foods vs. whole foods and why it makes a difference to your health. In a nutshell, whole foods are better for us because they taste better, they’re more satisfying and they provide more nutrition.You may know this already, but you may also believe that you’re so busy you don’t have the time to prepare them from scratch.
If that’s the case, don’t despair.
The variety of whole foods available to most of us today is exceptional. While chicken, steaks, and other meats, and a wide variety of vegetables and fruits are most reasonably priced in their raw form, the food industry has seen the demand for whole foods rise steadily over the past twenty years and has stepped in with freshly prepared and frozen options for convenience. Practically every supermarket offers meats cut to size for any preparation, bagged vegetable mixes and salads, and ready-to-eat fruit. And many of these items only require a few minutes in a microwave. We just need to know how to cut through the marketing hype, how to identify the good stuff, and how to prepare it quickly.
When I started writing Resetting Normal (about 2004), the selection of quality pre-prepared foods was abysmal. Since then the product landscape has changed, and I’ve seen many new products on the market that have few or no additives or preservatives.
There’s been a huge growth in the quality options now offered in the following categories:
- Frozen-food meals
- Frozen vegetable combinations
- Frozen fish
- Canned (or boxed) soups
- Canned (or boxed) broths—chicken/beef/vegetable
- Natural yogurts
- Cold and hot cereals
- Refrigerated salad dressings
- Snack foods like popcorn, pretzels, crackers, and chips
- Real ice creams
- Soft drinks
- Take-out from restaurants that are more whole-food conscious
- Cookies/cakes/pies (hard to find these with real ingredients and less sugar)
If you’re really interested in replacing at least some processed foods with whole foods, here are some supermarket shortcuts that will help dramatically.These make meal preparation a lot easier and less time-consuming because all the ingredients are ready and all you have to do is cook them.
- Some items in this category include:
- Pre-cut vegetable packs
- Pre-washed salads
- Pre-cut meats (not including lunchmeats such as salami, bologna, etc.)
- Pre-marinated, ready-to-cook meats from the butcher section
- Pre-cut fruit
- Salad bar take-home items (which are usually expensive—but a selection of specialty items you can add to your own lettuce might make your home-made salad more interesting).
- Chopped onions in the freezer section
- Chopped ginger in the freezer section or in a jar
- Pre-cleaned and cut garlic (usually in a jar of oil)
If you want to make a stir-fry you don’t have to spend a half hour cutting up the vegetables. You can buy a bag of stir-fry vegetables (already cut to the right size); add some thinly sliced chicken breast, beef, or tofu; and with a wok, a little peanut oil, and soy sauce you’re good to go. You can even find pre-cooked brown rice in the freezer section too.
You don’t have to cut and wash salad greens anymore either; the bagged varieties are ready to eat. Avoid the ones with dressings because they have the usual processed dressing additives. Want to make a slow cooker stew? You can combine a pack of stew-type vegetables, stewing beef cubes and one of the boxed, additive-free soups. While you’ll find that pre-cut ingredients are a little more expensive, if you’re short on time and you still want to eat well, it’s worth it.